As a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach, I regularly have dogs in for residential training, that have ingrained behavioural issues.
When I take a dog for residential training it is a way to ‘jump start’ the progression of the dogs training, whether it be for simply domestic training or more complex behavioural problems. A regular ‘type’ of dog that I am often asked to help, are those with aggression or reactivity issues.
At present, I have one such dog, in my care.
Tizer is an 18month old Border collie cross. I suspect some sort of setter based on his appearance and behaviour. I have actually known Tizer since he was approximately 16wks, as he was owned by a student.
He attended one of my competitive groups, intermittently and I saw him less then a handful of times. It was apparent he was a sweet genuine little dog, with a sensitive streak. He showed great promise for Competitive Obedience, where you could see his extravagant movement influenced by the gundog in him. Unfortunately, his owner was unable to attend the group and time surpassed and I didnt see Tizer for well over a year.
Recently, I got a phone call saying that Tizer’s owner was in need of help.
His owner rang me, and I could instantly hear the sadness and heartbreak in her voice. She had a change of personal circumstances, and needed to find Tizer a home.
She said that he had developed some major behaviour issues, including aggression and in-house fighting. She also said that she was concerned over his reaction to children and small dogs, to the extent where she believed that he would kill a small dog.
There was no way that I could not try and help, given the situation. Here was a dog and person in need, and I was in a position to assist.
The sadness part of this tale, is that this situation is neither unique or unusual. I count myself fortunate to have had more then my fair share of ‘guardian angels’, always there when I needed them, so this was the least I could do.
On collection of Tizer, you could clearly see a heart broken owner and a ‘broken’ dog. He was edgy and apprehensive. When I collected him, there were children coming from a local leisure facility, and Tizer’s body language showed apprehension, fear and a tenseness. He was obviously uncomfortable around them, and even tried to lunge forward towards one that was closer to him. His behaviour was concerning to say the least. This wasn’t going to be a simple solution. I assured his owner I would do my best, and said I would contact her the following day, to discuss Tizer. She was clearly too emotional to do so at the time.
Tizer had transformed from the dog that I initially met, who was sensitive and shy, but in no way aggressive. My role was to try and work out what had caused this drastic change in personality.
When I spoke to Tizer’s owner, she said that he had been absolutely fine until he hit approximately 6months old. She said that his behaviour changed dramatically and declined. She said that he started to act aggressively towards her other dogs, in particular her male Australian shepherd cross. There had been 3 incidents, in which one Tizer caused damage to the other dog. In addition, Tizer received an injury to his eye area. She stated that this behaviour was often unprovoked and ‘random’.
She explained that Tizer’s reactivity had increased from there, with outbursts towards other dogs on walks and also showing aggression towards smaller animals.
The change of dynamics in the house, had caused tension and undoubtedly stress for both the owner and Tizer.
As a a dog trainer and someone who deals with behavioural issues, I have to put on my Detectives hat, to try and work out why and how a problem has evolved. Whilst this is not always possible to fathom, it can help me work through the issue, faster. For example if a dog is lunging out at other dogs, being able to work out if it is fear based because it has been attacked by a certain colour of dog, I know that this is something I need to be aware of and can implement a plan accordingly. This information is helpful, but failing to have this insight, doesnt mean that the dogs behaviour cannot be improved, or even resolved. We just deal with the ‘now’.
There were several ‘clues’ which may indicate why Tizer’s behaviour has become so extreme.
Firstly, when I first met Tizer, he was definitely a sensitive soul. He was very biddable and receptive to training but would def need building up in confidence. He was very friendly with people, but would be submissive on approach. His behaviour was slightly appeasing, when meeting people. His demeanour was gentle but had an anxiety about his being. Dogs of this type, can often form unhealthy attachments to ‘their people’, and can result in anxiety related issues. My goal for all my dogs, is to create them being confident in their own being, with or without me present. If I have a dog of this ‘type’, I implement tactics to build their confidence up without my influence.
His owner stated that his behaviour changed at approximately 6months, which would also correlate to adolescence when dogs behaviour can change. With male dogs in particular, there is change in testosterone levels, which can incite aggression behaviour, either the dog being the recipient of, or attacker. Often this is superficial, but can result in a level of trauma to the owner or dog.
She also stated that he was very ‘attached’ to her, which could result in either resource guarding or separation anxiety. Because of Tizer’s sensitive nature, he would be more inclined to hold any anxiety and stress he felt, which would increase his likelihood of reactivity. When discussing Tizer’s behaviour, she said that the attacks on her other dogs, could be when all the dogs were in ‘quietly laying in the living room’. She stated that he would fly out at another dog without any warning.
The incidents within the home with Tizer, would create an apprehension within the environment a dog should ideally feel a sense of calm and ‘peace’. However, as is often the case with in house dog to dog issues, this in itself can create an atmosphere and a ‘walking on egg shells’ feeling. This again is building anxiety and tension.
Because of the issues with Tizer’s behaviour, his freedom and ‘outlet’ had been tapered, due to the restrictions his behaviour causes. A dog with ‘dog to dog’ issues, can be a life affecting responsibility. This could also contribute to his tension and eventual reactivity.
The other factor is the genetic influence on Tizer’s behaviour. He is part herding breeding and I suspect, part gundog. Both these types of dogs, have a high level of prey drive which has been utilised for a ‘job’, if and when this isn’t allowed to have an outlet, this can also contribute to a behavioural issue. His owner stated that he often would nip at her other dogs heels, when they run which is a trait common in herding breeds. She said that because of his unpredictable nature, she had been reluctant to allow him to run with her other dogs, fearing the nip would escalate.
You can see the picture being drawn and the ‘clues’ all merging together.
Here you have a sensitive dog, with a level or anxiety in his make up, who has entered adolescence and started to alter the way he behaves. This has resulted in every increasing internal fights between dogs in the home, and caused a level of apprehension within the household and owner. His lack of confidence around other dogs, has then manifested itself into anxiety and defensiveness, and eventually aggression. He may have formed an unhealthy attachment to his owner, which would manifest itself in him resource guarding her, or her property, which could trigger an aggressive outburst.
His behaviour has meant that his freedom and exercise are tapered, which could also create pent up frustration.
Often, there is not one singular cause a behaviour issue such as reactivity and aggression. As you can see from Tizer’s case study, it is more an accumulation of several factors.
So… now how to help him…. can I help him? Is his behavioural issues resolvable?
If you want to find out my plan to try and help Tizer, check out my facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/kamalfernandezdogtraining/
I shall be doing a live stream where you can ask questions and receive answers…. for more details, check it out!